Tuesday, December 30, 2008

a sex kitten worth remembering.

She was an entertainment multitasking pioneer, earning accolades in the recording, television and movie industries, as well as on Broadway, during a six-decade showbiz career. She was a mixed-race abuse survivor who pulled herself out of poverty with a feline femme fatale persona that wowed the likes of Orson Welles and sought to seduce Santa Claus. She was gritty. She was growly. And for me, she was the most purrrr-suasive Catwoman of the 1960s Batman series. (Julie Newmar? OK. But Lee Meriwether? Please.)

She was Eartha Kitt, and she finally used up her ninth life on Christmas Day at the age of 81, succumbing to colon cancer.

Eartha Mae Keith was born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina, the illegitimate child of a black Cherokee sharecropper mother and a white man Eartha never knew. She worked in the cotton fields as a child, and was raised in her aunt's home, where she claimed she was abused for being "too white." Upon her aunt's death, eight-year-old Eartha was sent to Harlem to live with Marnie Kitt, whom Eartha believed to be her biological mother. Abused there, as well, Eartha became a runaway and was a homeless teen until a friend dared her to audition for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company; Eartha was accepted, and her life changed for good.

Eartha Kitt went on to speak four languages and sing in seven as she performed her sizzling cabaret act across Europe, singing signatures such as "C'est Si Bon," "Love for Sale," and "Monotonous." Her biggest and most lasting hit came with 1954's "Santa Baby," still a holiday season staple. Eartha's stage career lasted from 1945 to 2003, and included 13 shows and two Tony nominations. Her film career included 35 movies, while her TV work garnered her an 1966 Emmy award nomination for a guest appearance on I Spy, as well as two Daytime Emmy awards within the past two years for her voicework as Yzma in the children's animated series The Emperor's New School.

While Welles publicly dubbed her "the most exciting woman alive," Eartha's other rich-and-famous romances included cosmetics magnate Charles Revson and banking heir John Barry Ryan III. She was married only once, to real-estate developer Bill McDonald, for five years. Their daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and two grandchildren survive her.

She was singular. She was a siren. And she could teach us all a little something-something about sexy. Au revoir, amazing Eartha. Rowwwrr.

And just for nostalgia's sake, here's a little vintage Kitt Catwoman-on-Batgirl action:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

got girlfriends? must read.

My colleague and friend and amazing woman Patti DeNucci recently emailed me the YouTube video of Kelly Corrigan reading aloud her essay, Transcending, from her book, The Middle Place. It was so spectacular, I bought the book (newly released in paperback), just so I could retype and post the whole essay here. Thanks, Patti, for sharing; now, I'm spreading the word(s) - and if this doesn't make you buy the book, too, well . . . then I'll be mighty surprised:

I had one of those milestone birthdays a few months back. After the party got going, I tried to make a toast - something about friendship, something about my mother and her friends, who call themselves "The Pigeons" (a twist on The Hens) - but it was rowdy and my friend Shannon was heckling me, so I kept it short. Anyway, this what I wanted to say:

There were once a dozen Pigeons, but in the past few years, they lost two of the greats to cancer. On the Pigeons go, though, like women do, limping one minute, carrying someone the next. They started in the '60s, in suburban Philadelphia, with bridge and tennis and chardonnay (okay, vodka) and, over time, became something like a dedicated fleet, armed ships sailing together, weather be damned.

For me and women of my generation, it started with playdates, cutting carbs and meeting on Monday mornings in workout clothes to do awkward moves with large, colorful balls. And I can see exactly where it's heading.

We'll confer about jog bras and contractors and pediatricians. We'll gossip about babysitters, teachers, in-laws. We'll speculate about who had a shot of Botox, who cheats on their taxes, who cleans until midnight.

We'll celebrate each others' achievements: opening an exercise studio, a corner store, a jewelry business. We'll celebrate our kids' achievements: making the traveling team, singing in the choir, learning to knit or speak French or play the flute. We'll borrow eggs, earrings, extra chairs. We'll throw birthday parties for each other, and stain the rugs and shatter the wine glasses and mark up new counters with the odd slice of lemon. We'll worry about who seems down, who looks tired, who's drinking more and more. We'll say things we wish we hadn't, and have to find a way to regain each other's trust. Things will break - they always do. Many will be fixed.

We'll fret about our children: too shy, too angry, too needy. We'll brainstorm ways to help them become more resilient, patient, lighthearted. We'll protect them, fiercely - pulling little bodies from the deep end, double-latching windows, withholding car keys.

We'll bury our mothers and our fathers - shuttling our children off for sleepovers, jumping on red-eyes, telling each other stories that hurt to hear, about gasping, agonal breaths, hospice nurses, scars and bruises and scabs, and how skin papers shortly after a person passes. We will nod in agreement that it is as much an honor to witness a person leave this world as it is to watch a person come into it.

We'll admire each other for a fine creme brulee, a promotion, a finished marathon. We'll commiserate about commutes, layoffs, mortgage rates, the
High School Musical soundtrack. We'll confide in each other about feeling anxious or angry or uninteresting, or how many pieces of Halloween candy we accidentally ate from our kids' bags. We'll confess that we text while driving or that we should be having more sex or that we yell at our kids every day. We'll admit that we believe in God, Jesus Christ, Heaven and Hell - or that we don't.

People will drift in and out. Book clubs will swell and thin. We'll write someone off and they'll reemerge later, and we'll remember both why we loved them and why we let them slip away, but we'll be softer and we'll want them back.

We'll give up things together - caffeine, Tylenol PM, catalogs, social smoking. We'll take up things, too - morning walks, hybrids, organic dairy, saying grace. We'll persuade each other to bake, sell, fold, stuff, paint, and write checks for our favorite nonprofits.

We'll diagnose each others' brown lawns, torn muscles, basement odors. We'll check each others' heads for lice, and examine new bumps and moles, and listen to lists of symptoms. We'll teach each other how to set a ring tone, make a slide show, download a movie.

We will call and say, "I heard the news," and whatever the news is, we will come running, probably with food. We'll insist on second opinions, lots of rest and the best surgeon. We will face diseases, many kinds, and will, temporarily, lose our hair, our figures and our minds.

Eventually, someone who's not supposed to die will - maybe one of us, maybe a husband, God forbid a child - and all this celebrating and sharing and confessing will make certain essential comforts possible. We'll rally around and hold each other up, and it won't be nearly enough, but it will help the time pass just a hair faster than it would have otherwise. We will wait patiently and lovingly for that first laugh after the loss. When it comes - and it will come - we will cry as we howl as we clutch as we circle. We will transcend, ladies. Because we did all this, in that worst moment, we will transcend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

a folk music legend worth remembering.

Before Madonna, before Cher, even before Oprah, there was Odetta. A woman with a performance gift powerful enough to carry her on a single name.

Odetta was a folksinger who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians - among them Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez - for over a half-century. She died December 2nd at the age of 77.

Quoth The New York Times, "With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, washerwomen and housewives, blacks and whites.

"'What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs,' Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"'I'm not a real folksinger,' she told the Washington Post in 1983. 'I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching.'"

Thrice-nominated for a Grammy - the latest nom coming in 2005 for her album Gonna Let It Shine - Odetta was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1999 by then-President Bill Clinton. Clinton said Odetta's career showed us all "that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."

Odetta was actively involved in the civil rights movement, singing at the March on Washington in August, 1963. "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," wrote The Times.

Despite failing health that kept her wheelchair-bound, Odetta performed 60 concerts during the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her final big performance was October 4th at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, where she sang for tens of thousands. Her manager says she was hoping to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama next month.

I've got a feeling she still will.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

proud mary, keep on burnin'.

How about a little birthday shout-out to our girl, Ms. Tina Turner, who celebrated her 69th birthday November 26th . . . and followed it up in true Tina style with a December 1st celebrity-crowded, tear-the-roof-off, bring-the-house-down show at New York's Madison Square Garden.

According to Billboard, "[T]his woman defies so much conventional wisdom that being in her presence for two-plus hours is a bit of a head trip. . . . it was beyond clear that she'll probably outlast us all, still glittering like the sequins sewn into her dresses."

Of course, she nevah evah does anything nice and easy . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

december gratitudes.

Today, I am . . .
  • doing a fair job of balancing life & work.
  • blogging again & feeling good about it.
  • relieved to have finally completed a project I've had hanging over me since mid-November.
  • concerned about my daughter's extreme internalization.
  • loving this non-sequitur fashion tip from my son (almost six): "Black is good for nail polish if you're going to die."
  • needing some alone time.
  • worried about holiday weight gain.
  • wanting to spend some one-on-one time with my husband.
  • tired - seriously t-i-r-e-d - of seeing 3 a.m. (& later!).
  • proud of my now-traditional Christmas morning cream-cheese-pull-apart rolls.
  • already thinking about 2009 & how I want to be/what I want to do/what I want to make of it.
  • still amazed Barack Obama will be our American President within a month. Wow.
For all this & much more, I'm grateful.
Life is good. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

a maven of mirth worth remembering.

With a name as plain as Betty James, you'd never guess she came up with a name as world-renowned as Slinky.

Betty James named her engineer husband's toy creation 65 years ago; by Christmas 1945, the Philadelphia Gimbels department store had sold the first 400 models within 90 minutes at the price of $1 a piece.

According the Associated Press:

[James] beat the odds as a single mother in the late 1950s to become a successful executive . . .. She took over management of James Industries, Inc. 14 years after the company was founded, after her husband left her to follow a religious cult in Bolivia. Richard James died in 1974.

Initially, James would leave her six children with a caregiver from Sunday through Thursday while she oversaw operations in Philadelphia. But in 1965, she moved the company to her hometown of Hollidaysburg, [PA], where, though sold in 1998 to Michigan-based POOF Products, Inc., it remains today.

By the time of her death November 20, 2008, at the age of 90, Betty had been inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, and over 300 million Slinkys and Slinky variations had been sold in her lifetime. In a 1995 AP interview, she offered her perspective on the classic toy's spectacular success:

"I think really it's the simplicity of it," Betty explained. "There's nothing to wind up; it doesn't take batteries. I think also the price helps. More children can play with it than a $40 or $60 toy." Even now, Slinkys retail for only about $4-5.

And who can ever forget the catchy Slinky jingle? Here you go, kids of the '70s (love the carpeting):

And here's my favorite faux commercial, clearly derived straight from the Slinky original (no disrespect intended to the dedicated, ingenuous, persistent, successful and fun Ms. James - just had to share):

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

four-star first.

I may be a little late, but it's not like her final little five-pointed friend is going anywhere . . . Waaay-high feminist fives go to Ann Dunwoody, who on November 14th became the first woman in the U.S. military to hold the rank of four-star general.

Dunwoody, 55, comes from five generations of military, and though she grew up wanting only to teach physical education and raise a family, her rock-'em-sock-'em roots got the best of her during what she intended to be a two-year detour with the Army. Thirty-three years later, Dunwoody explains her change of mind: "As a soldier, you can continuously serve. It is a calling to be a soldier, and there is a great sense of pride and camaraderie in serving the greatest Army in the world."

A Virginia native, Dunwoody has, over the course of her career, served in: Fort Sill, OK; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Fort Bragg, NC; Fort Drum, NY; Alexandria, VA; and Fort Lee, VA. She deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991, and to Uzbekistan for Operation Enduring Freedom I in 2001.

Dunwoody's military decorations include three Legion of Merit awards, two Distinguished Service Medals and a Defense Superior Service Medal. Among her notable firsts, she was: the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1992; the first woman general officer at Fort Bragg in 2000; and the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee in 2004.

In June, Dunwoody was nominated by President George W. Bush for promotion to four-star rank, and her nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in July. The promotion is particularly impressive since, by law, women are excluded from combat jobs, the typical military path to four-star rank.

Present at Dunwoody's pinning ceremony was her 89-year-old father, Harold Dunwoody, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and highly decorated three-war veteran, and her husband of 18 years, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Craig Brotchie.

"No one is more surprised [by this honor] than I - except, of course, my husband," Dunwoody quipped. "You know what they say: 'Behind every successful woman is an astonished man.'"

Astonishing? To some, maybe. But definitely amazing for us all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


One-hundred-and-two years later, Xerox is still proving itself a leader - and a corporate patriot.

The Let's Say Thanks project - created and sponsored by Xerox, the copy company - gives everybody with Internet access a free and easy way to make sure American troops overseas have an inkling about how grateful we are for their service and sacrifice.

Just visit www.letssaythanks.com, choose one of the postcard designs (selected from a pool of entries from children nationwide), pick an already written message or write a note of your own, and click "send." Xerox does the rest, printing your postcard and mailing it with others in care packages sent by the military support group Give2TheTroops.

No, you can't dictate which soldier receives your postcard, but who cares? Regardless of how you feel about our country's current military actions, I don't know one person who doesn't wholeheartedly support and greatly appreciate our servicewomen and men, and the hard job they do to help keep our country safe and free.

All you need is about 30 seconds - please go to www.letssaythanks.com today, and express your gratitude to fellow Americans who earn it every day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

buying for a better world.

For those of us still traveling the evolutionary continuum from giving presents to giving presence for the holidays - in other words, everyone for whom it still 'tis the season to buy stuff - here's a wonderful new website for acquisition: worldofgood.ebay.com.

World of Good by eBay is an online superstore hybrid of, well, eBay and World of Good, a fair trade wholesale business. Essentially, the partnership is trying to do for the mothers of Africa, Asia, India and Latin America what eBay did for their U.S. counterparts, promising to sell more fair-trade goods than have ever been sold in one spot before.

At the website, you can search for products benefiting a particular cause, read artisans' bios and check third-party verifiers for specific items. The site also links to articles, blogs and bulletin boards - it even has its own Facebook group.

From cause-positive coffee to eco-friendly earrings to a serious selection of sustainable stocking stuffers, World of Good is worth a good look.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

give presence.

I'm no Jesus freak. A Christian, yes. But much to my Lutheran parents' chagrin, no longer a church-goer. I've essentially reached the conclusion that the church is a good venue for people to affirm their faith and to build community, but isn't necessary for nurturing a relationship with God. I sort of think of church like Weight Watchers - you go to the meetings for introspection, inspiration, rededication and a sense of not being alone on your path.

Still, I'm intrigued and inspired by Advent Conspiracy. This movement, launched two years ago by five pastors, was originated as a resource for churches to more fully engage in authentic worship and giving at Christmas. It's about bringing Christmas back to basics. Quoth the homepage:

The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope and revolutionary love.

So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams and shopping lists.

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again? Welcome to Advent Conspiracy.

So, while I'm no Jesus freak, I definitely believe in what Jesus was all about, which was peace, love, giving and treating each other like you want to be treated. So I love the simple concept behind Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully. Spend Less (money). Give More (time). Love All.

This year, they say, Give Presence.

You don't need to be a Jesus freak to see that's the meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

get gratitude.

I believe gratitude is a miraculous force. So does Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta, which is why he penned a post about ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. Some samples:

Have a morning gratitude session. Make it a daily ritual to take one minute in the morning to think of the people who have done something nice for you or to think of as many things as you can in your life you're grateful for.

Having a hard day? Create a gratitude list.

Don't get mad; get grateful. Whenever you find yourself ticked off at someone, pause, do a little deep breathing, and try to think of reasons you're grateful for him or her.

Show gratitude to your significant other, rather than criticizing.

Show gratitude for your children, rather than kvetching about them.

Facing a life challenge? Try to see it as an opportunity for learning, growth and improvement. There's always something good to be found within the difficult or tragic.

Concludes Leo: "There's no doubt in my mind the simple act of [regular] gratitude . . . will change anyone's life, positively and immediately."

Monday, December 1, 2008

hello, december.

Just past Thanksgiving.
Diving into the holidays.
Feeling blessed by & grateful for ...

1. the beach.

2. our little familial quartet.

3. my laptop.

4. Christmas music.

5. Christmas movies.

6. successful science projects.

7. our menagerie - currently two dogs, a beta fish & ten painted lady butterflies.

8. antibiotics.

9. sleep.

10. an abundance of work (which spurs even greater appreciation for #9).

So, what are you feeling good about right now??

celebrate the everyday - december.

It's December, 2008. How will you celebrate being a woman?

December 12 - Full moon [the Oak Moon]
December 15 - National Cat Herders Day
December 19 - Underdog Day
December 21 - Winter Solstice/World Peace Day

Remember, where there is connection, there is power.
Where there is power, there is hope for change. For ourselves, and for our world.
We are all connected. We are all powerful.

Until my next post, be well, be happy & be hopeful.